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Full text of "History And Human Relation"

THE   BANGERS    OF   HISTORY

of 1919. What you have to avoid is too blind an
immersion in the prejudices of your own time. Those
•who talked of " avoiding the mistakes of 1815 " were
using history to ratify the prejudices they had already.
In any case, men are slow to count their blessings and
quick to see the faults and shortcomings of the world
into which they are born, and in 1919 it was the general
cry that Europe must not be saddled with the burden of
a settlement as unsatisfactory as that of the Congress of
Vienna. It took our knowledge of the difficulties,
weaknesses and^ephemerality of the Versailles settlement
to make us realise that the state of the question is entirely
different. What we want to learn now is why the
Congress of Vienna was so much more successful than
we have known how to be.

Not only do historical judgments rest so often on an
assumption concerning what would have happened if a
certain statesman had acted differently—if only Metter-
nidh. had done the other thing> for example—but there is
a rigidity that occurs in our treatment of the possible
alternatives, for we so often imagine that there was only
one alternative, when in reality there was a great range
of them. We overlook, therefore, the complexity of
the mathematics that will be required to work out the
displacements which a different event would have pro-
duced, as in the case of the problem of what would have
happened if Napoleon had won the battle of Waterloo.
So from an armchair every Tom, Dick and Harry in
England can conduct a facile course of reasoning which
will satisfy him that he could easily have thwarted Hitler
at an earlier point in the story, because he, for his part,

H.H.R.                          177                                M